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Donor based organizations share many things in common with associations and other non-profit business models. Taking inspiration from Blue Ocean Strategy, let’s consider two market spaces, associations, and donor-based organizations.


  • Mission Driven
  • Members
  • Subscriptions & Recurring Revenue Model
  • Live Events
  • Community
  • Education
  • Ecommerce
  • Foundation

Donor Based Orgs

  • Mission Driven
  • Members
  • Subscriptions & Recurring Revenue Model
  • Live Events
  • Community
  • Education
  • Ecommerce
  • Foundation

 …In most cases, a blue ocean is created from within a red ocean when a company alters the boundaries of an existing industry…Most blue oceans are created from within, not beyond, red oceans of existing industries. This challenges the view that new markets are in distant waters. Blue oceans are right next to you in every industry.

From “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

In our recent webinar, Actual Disruption 4: Dominate Digital Donations, we discussed how non-profit organizations can address the ongoing crisis and grow charitable donations. For our association clients, we found that 82% of revenue comes from program services. While government grants and charitable contributions account for 3% and 8% respectively. Could digital donations be a blue ocean for associations?

What can non-profit organizations learn from donor-based organizations when it comes to digital donations?

1. Acknowledge The Crisis

First, acknowledge the crisis: opportunities we were counting on are now lost. Live events were a big part of your revenue planning. Most live events are canceled. How do we engage people? Most importantly, ask “what do we do?” and pivot.  

2. Reaching Out and Talk

In this time of COVID-19 ramping up the human side of the relationship, not just emails, and content is an important first step. We are all craving human interaction. Remember to make your audience the star. Focus on engagement where the message is “we appreciate you as a person”. In other words, the pivot is to personalized outreach. Check-in calls are a simple tool for this type of outreach. Remember this time is hard for all of us. Your goal is to express thanks for what was done in the past. Make people realize they are not just a number to you — Giving is a fulfillment of what is important to them. 

“Knowing that you have been part of goodness in the world, is a huge saving grace. This engagement turns into more donations.” 

Leigh Kessler, VP of Marketing at CharityEngine

3. Getting Started with Digital Donations

For organizations unaccustomed to asking for digital donations, we were asked:

We don’t ask for donations but are considering it for scholarship programs, and educational development. How do you approach this with your audience when you haven’t asked for donations in the past?

Audience Question

We provided this guidance to get started with digital donations. First, answer these key questions:

  1. Is your goal clear?
  2. Ask what is my purpose?
  3. What is driving this?
  4. What spurred us to do this?
  5. Why?

In seeking internal clarity on your core drivers, you will begin to hone in on your purpose. This is key for later communicating to your audience why they should give and how they can relate emotionally to your cause. A campaign to establish “why” is next. Clear marketing that builds up to the ask to give and explains the “Five Why’s”. Explain to your audience what’s in it for them. Your audience needs an indication that this is a new way of doing things. A new chapter. And they happen to be the protagonist.

4. What is the best cadence? 

Experts disagree on what the best cadence is for requesting charitable donations. Getting in front of people and measuring the results is the key. There is no right answer to the frequency that will apply to everyone. That said, data may hold an answer. Data tells stories. Your data can tell if your cadence is working, and who is coming back to you. Regardless of your cadence, take the time to create a hypothesis and test your activities

5. Is it appropriate to always be asking for donations with different messaging depending on where each donor is in the funnel? 

Many organizations use a funnel to understand their sales and marketing activities and measure their effectiveness. For digital donations, a funnel is less common. Recurrence is looked at as “what does it take to get to the next donation”. For many non-profit organizations, donations or development is historically tied to direct mail, phone calls, and live events. Activities that are harder to measure. The role of digital is still considered secondary, but tools like PowerBI can help.

By caring about your data, you can get some answers. Engagement scores can help evaluate activity, engagement, and behaviors that lead to conversions. Establish what outcomes you are reaching for and measure your progress.

6. Should there be a set giving period during the year? 

Shark Week. Yes, Shark Week.

Creating your own Shark Week to engage your audience.

7. Reconsider Shopping Cart Donations

Consider the user experience of making a digital donation. What is the experience of providing a donation? The goal is to make the giving experience about what someone is doing at the moment. Grabbing their emotions. Locating the giver in the story as a protagonist. Keep in mind that an emotional connection is a key driver of digital donation conversions. With digital, each additional step is an invitation to bounce. Each step an opportunity to disconnect from being in the moment and making a donation. A shopping cart giving experience reduces the feeling of giving at a crucial point. It’s hard to have an emotional connection to a shopping cart.

Are you guilty of providing a shopping cart donation experience?

8. Provide Connection

Comedians are masters of being authentic. The best comedians are laser-focused on their uniqueness. They know exactly who they are. When you ask for a digital donation you must know who you are as an organization. Remember you are providing emotional resonance, and tapping into what makes you who you are as an organization.

Take, for example, an organization whose purpose is animal welfare. Locating connection requires that you consider if your audience protagonist is a dog lover, cat lover, or likes turtles.


Could digital donations be a blue ocean for your association?

Contact us to discuss your options. We also partner with organizations like Charity Engine to ensure you receive expert adivce.